Sandy Soohoo-Refaei joined PLNU’s staff this March as the new director of study abroad. Soohoo-Refaei carries a diverse background of international experience beginning with a spur-of-the-moment decision to study abroad in Mexico while attending Western Washington University (WWU).
She said the challenging environment proved to hone her leadership skills. With this passion in mind, Soohoo-Refaei now desires to push students out of their own comfort zones, to think about the world and be aware of how they fit into it.
“This awareness leads to compassion and engagement in a way that can impact [the world] in a positive way,” said Soohoo-Refaei.
After graduating from WWU with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, Soohoo-Refaei went on to receive her master’s degree in education counseling in higher education from Pacific Lutheran University in Washington. Her other ventures include working as an assistant dean with the Semester at Sea program, acting as associate director of international programs at Linfield College in Oregon and continuing as an active member of the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA): Association of International Educators.
Her journey down the Pacific Coast brought her on staff at PLNU after she heard about the opportunity through NAFSA. She saw her move to this new position as a calling from God and part of his sense of humor.
“There’s a reason I’m here,” said Soohoo-Refaei. “I’d like to think it’s to benefit students.”
Andra Jacques, study abroad coordinator, said that even though Soohoo-Refaei has only been on campus a month, she’s done so much.
“She has been really supportive to my colleague Karen [Eisenhut] and I as we undergo this transition and she has some exciting new ideas for PLNU Study Abroad,” Jacques said.
Rylie Shore, a senior global ambassador for study abroad, said she’s been a great addition to the study abroad office.
“Though I am still getting to know her, she is always friendly and brings a great sense of humor to our office,” Shore said. “Though I am graduating in a month and won’t be here to see her in the full swing of things, I have no doubt she will add a new and exciting flair to our programs and continue to be an invaluable director.”
Soohoo-Refaei talked openly of her ideas to benefit the students. Her concentration lies in the academic integration of students between their programs of choice and PLNU. One thing that would contribute to this integration would be allowing classes abroad to qualify as part of the student’s cumulative GPA. This would both encourage students and challenge them to make the most of their time abroad academically.
She would also like to concentrate on consolidating the pool of third-party programs that PLNU partners with to allow students to make a more selective decision, while simultaneously allowing study abroad advisors to have a better understanding of how each student’s academic and personal needs can be met. She also plans to create partnerships with renowned international universities, in order to provide students with a greater academic experience.
“Pairing down our program partnerships is long overdue,”Jacques said. “This process will allow us to be even better advisors to our students and make finding a program option much easier for students.”
Another of Soohoo-Refaei’s main goals is to draw connections between all international opportunities within the departments of PLNU. She established an advisory board, including Robert Gailey, director of the center for international development, Jamie Gates, director of the center for justice and reconciliation, Brian Becker, director of international ministry, and study abroad staff, who all met for the first time this past week. With this, she hopes to see a greater connection between such departments as the Center for International Development, the Center for Justice and Reconciliation, and LoveWorks.
Another key component she said brings greater unity between campus programs and study abroad comes from connecting department heads and helping faculty to see the importance of study abroad. With experience as a resident director, Soohoo-Rafaei also hopes Student Life staff can excite and support students as part of their academic career.
She wants to bring more international students to PLNU.
“Their presence on campus really enhances the community to develop cultural connections,” Sohoo-Refaei said.
Throughout her career, Soohoo-Refaei has travelled to over 100 countries.
“I’ve done a lot of crazy things in my life,” she said. “But I gain something from every experience.”